Centre for Policy Research
September 1, 2022
Do manifestos of political parties play any meaningful role before, during and after elections? Are they powerful symbols of the ideas, vision and programmes offered by a party to citizens or are they merely symbolic? Since most voters don’t bother to read manifestos before casting their ballot, why not relegate manifestos to the dustbins of oblivion? Despite such questions raised every now and then by sceptics and cynics, manifestos remain significant to parties in articulating her future plan, course of action on key issues and ideological vision.
Globally, scholars have treated party manifestos as serious documents that clearly spell out the ideological vision and action plan of a party. The Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP) is a collaborative global exercise that converts promises made by rival parties in various countries of the world into statistically measurable and comparable parameters.
Unfortunately, Asian and African countries are largely missing from this exercise. Furthermore, the CMP methodology may not work for a diverse country like India, with a proliferation of political parties whose ideological visions are always not very clear. In this context, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) devised a study protocol that maps out the Lok Sabha election manifestos of the Congress, the BJP and the CPI(M )since 1952. These three parties represent the ideological spectrum of Indian politics, and the study maps the evolution of issues that matter to Indian democracy.
The study involved a large team of independent coders and researchers using “word count”– the number of words devoted to an issue in the manifesto — to arrive at statistically measurable parameters. Seven major issues(or domains)were identified for the purpose: national security, political competence, political systems, social fabric, economic planning, welfare and development & infrastructure.
The results of this ambitious exercise are truly fascinating and offer a wealth of data as well as ideas to politicians, scholars, and journalists to dig deeper into specific issues confronting India that have attracted the attention of the major political parties. The study of manifestos from 1952 also offers a ringside view of how deeply and structurally the polity, economy and society have changed since India’s first elections. Manifestos may be forgotten, but they have left behind lasting
Those interested can delve deeper into the wealth of data thrown up by this study. For the sake of brevity, here are just a handful of interesting highlights: